Alameda Business Buzz: Bubble Farm Soap Co.

Alameda Business Buzz: Bubble Farm Soap Co.

Janice Worthen

Photo by Jenn Heflin.

Bubble Farm Soap Co. is all about the bees. As the name implies, the company’s line of soaps –made by hand with beeswax and an assortment of essential oils – is the heart of the business.

The company’s retail location, which opened last October on Central Avenue, is approaching its first anniversary, and it seems Islanders have already accepted the shop as an Alameda treasure.

Jean Chen, who owns the company with her husband Chris Bauer, said their business started out as a hobby but quickly became her full-time gig. After reading about urban beekeeping and the hives on the roof of the Palais Garnier, the opera house in Paris, Chen’s interest was sparked.

She and her husband learned more about the ins and outs of beekeeping and started with a single hive in San Francisco. When the couple moved to Alameda and had more room, they started more hives. They now have 12, and sometimes even those aren’t enough to help them keep up with the demand for their products.

With products in 28 retail locations – many of them in Alameda and including several Whole Foods – the couple’s business has become so popular that Chen has had to hire a person to help with soap making and has, on occasion, had to purchase additional beeswax from other local beekeepers.

Lavender ranks as the company’s top-selling soap scent overall, while rosemary honey sells best in the Alameda shop, where a variety of other products are for sale.

Customers visiting the store can try a variety of honey types from Bubble Farm Soap Co. bees at different seasons and honey from other producers as well; the varieties include winter and spring honey, creamed honey, dark buckwheat honey, and ginger honey.

Chen and Bauer also sell their own bath salts and salves (also available in lavender), and new products are added often. This year they started selling honey plum jam and chutney and honey lemon marmalade made by Bauer, and lip balm is coming soon, much to the delight of the company’s fans – in environmentally friendly cardboard tubes.

In addition to their own products, Chen and Bauer sell items from other local artisans and craftsman including vintage items from Venadoe Vintage, chocolates from Liberty Chocolate, and sustainable food wraps from Bee’s Wrap.

Since their retail location opened, Bubble Farm Soap Co. has also helped to make the center of the Island a more artsy place. The store has hosted four art shows so far, and on August 22, they will host their fifth, featuring Deirdre Freeman’s work.

Chen, who said she knows a lot of artists after a decade as a tattoo artist, said they already have artists lined up through early next year. She said many of the artists create bee-inspired art just for the show, and the art is very affordable because the artists are encouraged to bring prints.

The business has not been without its challenges. After weathering a zombie fly or wasp attack in 2012, which cost the couple two of their hives, they lost a half dozen more last winter for unknown reasons. Chen said the loss might have been due to the colony collapse disorder affecting hives across North America and Europe. Researchers are still looking for a cause for this disorder. Fortunately, the couple has been able to bring their hive count back up to 12.

Chen said she likes doing something that doesn’t harm the environment, and if productivity is any indicator, the bees seem happy too.

Having a retail location helps Chen feel like part of the Alameda community, and she said it’s nice to live where she works.

“I like that it feels like a small town but has a lot of urban offerings,” she added.

933B Central Avenue. Open 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Around Town

Alameda South Shore Center: Gelati POP will celebrate its grand opening today by offering customers free unlimited toppings and dips when they buy a Gelatipop. 2228B South Shore Center; 523-2228.

Downtown Alameda: Crispian Bakery is now open. 1700 Park Street. 239-4751. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Smashburger, which sells gourmet burgers that have been smashed onto a buttered, flat top grill with a device called The Smasher before being seasoned, is now open. 1640 Park Street; 254-6799. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

KauKau Corner is now open and providing big Island flavor with their Hawaiian cuisine. 1635 Park Street. 263-8608. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Injera Restaurant, which serves Ethiopian cuisine, is now open. 1305 Park Street; 685-6257. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Taste of Alameda will open August 22, and you can get a sneak peek at the menu by visiting their Facebook page. 1354 Park Street; 217-8100.

The annual Park Street area “Customer Celebration Day” will take place September 12. This is a great opportunity to get discounts, prizes, and more in downtown Alameda. Follow the Park Street Business Association (soon to be the Downtown Alameda Business Association) on Facebook for updates.

West Alameda: CREAM will celebrate the grand opening of its Alameda location, the 20th for the franchise, on August 22 with free ice cream sandwiches from noon to midnight, live entertainment, and a host of activities.

This is the first CREAM location for co-owners Hamid Barakzai and Anshum Jain, but according to Jain, they will have one opening in Fremont in a few weeks and plan to open two more in the Bay Area.

“We enjoyed the experience as customers ourselves and wanted to bring CREAM to local communities,” Barakzai wrote me in an email explaining why they decided to open a franchise.

Jain said the thing that makes CREAM special is what the brand stands for, the highest quality for the most affordable price. An ice cream sandwich will only set you back $2.99, and Jain said that brings people in.

CREAM president and chief operating officer Jim Ryan said CREAM has its roots in the Bay Area: Its first shop opened in Berkeley in 2010, near University of California, Berkeley. Ryan said student fans helped spread the word after graduating and moving away.

Ryan said four principles have contributed to CREAM’s success: a high, premium product from their ice cream to their cookies, reasonable prices that provide a great value, an atmosphere that is young, hip and friendly, and customer centric service. Ryan added that, besides several new locations opening in the states, CREAM should be international in about three years.

2630 Fifth Street, Suite A.